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2010 Top 10 Ensemble Casts

 

Article by Todd Plucknett

Written - 1/14/10

 

 

Giving out awards for Best Ensemble Cast is an interesting task. Every organization seems to have a different idea about what the award entails. To some, it is just the most impressive list of actors attached to a movie. This is how films like Bobby and Ocean’s Twelve get mentions. Some of them are simply representative of the organization’s favorite films, which is how Slumdog Millionaire inexplicably won the award at the SAG in 2008. Then, there are the ones that are more about cast chemistry, which is how inspired choices like Hustle & Flow and United 93 are selected. The third category is definitely the one that I prefer.

 

For me, what makes an ensemble cast great is how well the actors work together, their chemistry and believability, being completely free of bad performances, and having all of its actors at or near the top of their game. Oftentimes, this will overlap with the star-filled casts, but just because the cast is huge does not immediately qualify it for my awards. The cast does not even have to be that large. In the past, I have given the award to a film with just three cast members (Tape). Sometimes, most of the cast never even sees the rest of the cast (The Dead Girl). It is one of my favorite awards and one that Oscars should certainly adopt this as their 25th yearly honor. Almost everyone else has caught on, so why not the biggest award ceremony? I mean, they did make it 10 Best Picture nominees, so change is not completely foreign to them…

 

Others receiving votes:

City Island – Andy Garcia, Julianna Marguiles, Steven Strait, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Ezra Miller, Emily Mortimer, Alan Arkin

Get Low – Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, Lucas Black, Gerald McRaney, Bill Cobbs, Scott Cooper

Hereafter – Matt Damon, Cecile de France, Thierry Neuvic, Jay Mohr, Richard Kind, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Bryce Dallas Howard

The King’s Speech – Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush, Guy Pearce, Derek Jacobi, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall

True Grit – Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper

 

10. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Michael Cera, Alison Pill, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, Ellen Wong, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Brie Larsen, Chris Evans, Jason Schwartzman, Brandon Routh


This is one of the most awesome and crazy casts in recent memory. It is filled with tons of cool young future stars, and each of them just relishes in their role. The principal cast works really well together. Michael Cera is able to do his thing, while giving a bit more depth than what is expected. It is almost his Nick and Nora role, but ten times cooler. Mary Elizabeth Winstead could be a future star. Her role is fit for someone with great dry humor, and she effortlessly slides into the role. Johnny Simmons has somewhat mastered the shy guy who thinks he is cool routine in the last couple years. That is just scratching the surface, though. Random actors pop up and give unforgettable cameo performances, most notably Chris Evans and Brandon Routh. Each one of the relationships and delivery of dialogue from all cast members is believable. You can actually see those people being friends like that, and that is perhaps what makes the movie work more than a typical action flick. Edgar Wright knows what he is doing, and his cast is the main beneficiary of that.

 

Best performance: Michael Cera

 

 

9.  Mother and Child

Annette Bening, Eileen Ryan, Samuel L. Jackson, Naomi Watts, Cherry Jones, Kerry Washington, David Ramsey, Jimmy Smits, Shareeka Epps, S. Epatha Merkerson, David Morse, Amy Brenneman

 

Mother and Child is an interesting film. It does not completely work, but all of the performances do. It is one of those interlocking story dramas in the vein of Crash, except each story is much more independent, more like Nine Lives. The cast is huge, and each story has a few astounding performances. The highlights are Naomi Watts, Samuel L. Jackson, and Kerry Washington. That Jackson and Watts story could make an entire film. That is the kind of chemistry and believability that each story has. The reason the film does not work is that not all of the individual stories are compelling, most notably the Annette Bening bit. That does not take away from the cast ensemble, though. It is one to be remembered. If only the film half as good.

 

Best performance: Naomi Watts

 

 

8. Please Give

Amanda Peet, Josh Pais, Oliver Platt, Sarah Steele, Elise Ivy, Catherine Keener, Rebecca Hall, Ann Morgan Guilbert, Elizabeth Keener, Lois Smith, Thomas Ian Nicholas

 

This is another one of those movies that did not entirely work, but the actors make it tolerable. The cast here is sensational, as we have become accustomed to with Nicole Holofcener films. The chemistry between the leads Catherine Keener, Rebecca Hall, and Amanda Peet is fantastic. Each scene with them on screen together is when the film truly shines. Oliver Platt gives a nice, restrained performance. The entire cast is really near the top of their game. The film does not quite do its cast justice, but it does not take away from the performers. It is one of the best and most interesting casts assembled in 2010.

Best Performance: Catherine Keener

 

 

7. Shutter Island

Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Ted Levine, Jackie Earle Haley, John Carroll Lynch, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, Elias Koteas,

 

This film had the unfortunate early-year release date, resulting in almost no award consideration. The cast is astonishing in this one, though. Martin Scorsese assembles one of the most remarkable ensembles in years. Every performance is brilliant. Leonardo DiCaprio is seldom off the screen. Each actor that he comes across throughout the film has a different story, and each one is completely believable. Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, and Jackie Earle Haley are all award-worthy. Each member of the cast gets at least one scene to show off their acting chops, and they all get the most out of their characters. In lesser hands, the smaller performances would have been throwaway roles, but with Marty, nearly every speaking character is a four-star actor or better.

 

Best Performance: Michelle Williams

 

 

6. Black Swan

Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder, Barbara Hershey

 

This is probably the film with the most inspired casting of the year. Natalie Portman is absolutely breathtaking in her lead role. After that, Vincent Cassel is superb as he always is. Mila Kunis shows that she is more than just a pretty face. Her chemistry with Portman is perhaps the best of 2010. Winona Ryder and Barbara Hershey are stellar in their small roles. This cast is an absolute juggernaut. Every scene is beautifully melodramatic, but it is still absolutely humane and real, due to the cast’s commitment to Aronofsky’s vision. Even though there are images that will haunt the audience long after the film is over, it is the performances that will be the most longstanding.

 

Best Performance: Natalie Portman

 

 

5. The Town

Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, John Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Slain, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper, Owen Burke, Titus Welliver

 

Ben Affleck is a genius. His work as a director on two films has surpassed anything that he has done as an actor in the last two decades. His actors seem to be the main beneficiaries of that. There are tons of times when his characters just sit down across the table from each other and speak his brilliant dialogue and are basically just given the floor to do their thing. Every actor is at the height of their powers in this film including Affleck himself. Jeremy Renner is going to get an Oscar nomination. Rebecca Hall gives a second great performance this year. Blake Lively steals the show with her heartbreaking 10 minute role. Affleck really outdid himself here. This ensemble cast is just terrific.

 

Best Performance: Blake Lively

 

 

4. The Kids Are All Right

Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Josh Hutcherson, Mia Wasikowska, Mark Ruffalo

 

This cast is the token indie comedy that has the amazing cast chemistry. In the past, that honor went to Little Miss Sunshine and Juno, among others. Each performance in this film is nearly flawless. Annette Bening could win an Oscar for her restrained, emotional performance. Mark Ruffalo is absolutely great as usual. Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson prove their potential talent is huge. Julianne Moore is the best, though, with her emotional and humorous performance. Everything about her is always so authentic and memorable, even when her screen time is limited, as it was in 2009 with A Single Man. She is simply one of the 10 best actors working today, and her performance here with the rest of that fresh ensemble is one that I will not soon forget.

 

Best performance: Julianne Moore

 

 

3. Cyrus

John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill, Catherine Keener

 

This is the coolest group of actors of any movie in 2010. Who else but the brilliant Duplass brothers would cast Jonah Hill in a crucial role in their drama? Hill absolutely steals the show as the son who is very protective of his mother, played with a lot of heart by the lovely Marisa Tomei. John C. Reilly is basically playing the role you would expect him to, but it is much deeper than usual for him. The scenes between him and Hill seem to be instant classics. It is like Step Brothers meets mumblecore, and every moment works well. Even Catherine Keener makes an appearance as Reilly’s ex, and her character’s scenes just illuminate in a way that only Keener can make them. This cast is the most believable and has the highest percentage of Oscar-level work (100%) of any 2010 release.

 

Best Performance: Jonah Hill

 

 

2. The Social Network

Jesse Eisenberg, Rooney Mara, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, Bryan Barter, Brenda Song, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Joseph Mazzello, Rashida Jones, Patrick Mapel

 

I never would have thought that this film would be as successful as it is. When I first heard about it, I had serious doubts. Justin Timberlake and Jesse Eisenberg in a movie about Facebook, directed by cult director David Fincher? I could not have been more wrong. The cast of young stars and/or future stars is excellent. Jesse Eisenberg gave the best performance of the year. His chemistry with Andre Garfield, Rooney Mara, and Timberlake are incredible. All of the performances are top notch, and each actor is able to slide into their character so seamlessly that you almost forget that they are acting. Every scene seems absolutely vital because the actors are so convincing and so true that each word of dialogue is essential. There really is nothing like this film out there, and this young, hip cast really shined brighter than anyone could have imagined.

 

Best Performance: Jesse Eisenberg

 

 

1. The Fighter

Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Mickey O’Keefe, Jack McGee, Melissa McMeekin, Bianca Hunter, Erica McDermott, Jill Quigg, Dendrie Taylor, Kate B. O’Brien

 

This was a tough call for the number one spot. It hurts to not put The Social Network here, but I cannot deny the impact of the ensemble cast of The Fighter. Each performance is never less than completely authentic and real. Christian Bale leads the way with his future Oscar winning role. He plays so effortlessly with Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams, both of whom give career performances. Melissa Leo and the rest of the family are brilliant and always convincing. What sets this apart from the other ensembles of the year is that the actors all have one goal, which is to make the film as great as it can be. In many of the other films, the actors are clearly giving performances and blatantly show their talents. Here, each performance is vital to the overall impact of the film. It is almost hard to even decipher what is acting and what is not. They become the characters, which is difficult to do, especially because they are already movie stars. This type of small scale, character-driven drama is one of my favorite genres of film. Most of that has to do with the actors, and this film is as good as it gets.

 

Best Performance: Christian Bale

 

 

 

So, what do you think? Are there other casts that I may have overlooked? Which should be higher or lower on my list? What would your list look like?

 

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